Decommissioning in a local healthcare system in Sweden: Responses to fiscal stress

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Background: Drawing on the literature on cutback management, this article deals with healthcare decommissioning in times of austerity. Politicians and decision-makers are typically reluctant to decommission healthcare, and if they do, the public generally reacts strongly towards reductions in service supply. Despite this, comprehensive decommissioning does take place, though empirical knowledge about its effects and economic sustainability is limited. To further the understanding of healthcare decommissioning, this paper aims to introduce the concepts of cutback management into the research on healthcare decommissioning, and apply its components to an empirical case of comprehensive decommissioning. In doing so, the study analyses whether decommissioning measures can be expected to generate long-or short-term economic payoff, and considers what other effects they might have on the healthcare system. Method: We developed a theoretical framework that enabled us to investigate the measures through which a local healthcare system in Sweden, region Dalarna, responded to an acute fiscal crisis in 2014, and what effects these measures are likely to generate. The method used was a deductive content analysis of Dalarna's decommissioning program, containing 122 austerity measures for saving 700 million Swedish Krona (SEK). Results: Dalarna's local decision-makers responded to the fiscal crisis through a combination of operational cuts (20% of undertaken measures), programme cuts (42% of undertaken measures), and structural reforms (38% of undertaken measures). The instruments most commonly used were increased patient fees and the merger of service facilities. By relying foremost on programme cuts and structural reforms, Dalarna adopted the measures most plausible to have moderate or long-term economic payoffs. Successful implementation, however, may be challenging and difficult to evaluate. Conclusions: Healthcare politicians and decision makers have better potential to stabilize their long-term economic situation if they rely on responses such as operational cuts, programme cuts and structural reforms, as opposed to across-the-board cuts and cuts in investment and capital expenditures. However, with economics being only one important factor for sustainable healthcare systems, further studies should investigate how these measures affect important principles, such as equal healthcare distribution and access. Trial registration: Not applicable.




Moberg, L., & Fredriksson, M. (2020). Decommissioning in a local healthcare system in Sweden: Responses to fiscal stress. BMC Health Services Research, 20(1).

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